Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

When it came time to name a new model, or even a new company, automakers often found inspiration in the stars. Astronomical phenomena, planets, and whole galaxies have all found their way onto fender badges and hood ornaments. Here are just a few examples.

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Harry Grant #27 Sunbeam, Indianapolis Speedway, 1914. 2009.103.P.5027.5


Great Britain’s Sunbeam Motor Car Company traces its roots to a bicycle manufacturer founded in 1887. Sunbeam cars raced in Grand Prix events and competed for land speed records. Harry Grant finished seventh in a Sunbeam at the 1914 Indianapolis 500. The company closed during the Great Depression, but the Sunbeam name survived a while longer under new ownership.

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1923 Star Station Wagon. 83.16.1

After being driven out of General Motors for a second – and final – time, Billy Durant founded Durant Motors in 1921. He christened his low-priced model Star and set his sights on Ford’s Model T. While Star never seriously threatened the T, it did introduce the first factory-built station wagon.

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Moon Motometer, circa 1925. 81.99.94

Strictly speaking, the Moon Motor Car Company of St. Louis was named for its founder, Joseph W. Moon, but a crescent Moon logo turned up in its advertisements from time to time. The automaker remained in business from 1905 to 1930. Its name is proudly featured on this motometer – a device for measuring engine coolant temperature.

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1960 Ford Advertisement, “The Silver Curve of Success – Galaxie by Ford.” 87.14.14.19

When the Russians launched Sputnik – the first artificial Earth satellite – in 1957, it kicked off a “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the United States. In turn, that competition inspired a series of space-inspired car names like Ford’s Galaxie. When introduced for 1959, Galaxie was the company’s top trim level for its full-sized models.

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Ford Starliner Nameplate, 1960-1961. 2011.316.1

For 1961, Ford introduced a fastback version of the Galaxie, appropriately named Starliner. Studebaker had previously used the Starliner name on a series of striking coupes designed by Robert E. Bourke of Raymond Loewy Associates and produced from 1952 to 1954.

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1961 Mercury Meteor Advertisement, “Priced to Compete with Low-Price Field!” 64.167.19.225

Mercury (itself a celestial name – though inspired by the Roman god and not the planet) introduced its Meteor model for 1961. Never a strong seller, Meteor was discontinued after the 1963 model year. The name enjoyed a longer life in Canada, where Ford used it to denote a distinct brand of cars – not just a model – from 1949 to 1976.

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Brochure, “Comet Performance for ’65” 2007.1.1930.25

Ford introduced the Comet – initially a distinct brand – for 1960 as an upscale version of the compact Falcon. For 1962, Comet became a Mercury model. In the mid-1960s, Comets were offered with special options packages tailored for NHRA drag racing.

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1966 Toyota Corona Sedan. 87.120.1

Corona – named for the plasma aura surrounding the Sun – was the perfect name for the first truly successful car imported to the United States from Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. Unlike Toyota’s first attempt for the American market – the overpriced and underpowered Toyopet – the Corona did well with stateside buyers.

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Plymouth Satellite Custom Nameplate, 1968-1969. 2011.239.1

Like the Dodge Polara before it, the Plymouth Satellite brought cosmic lexicon to Chrysler’s product line when introduced for 1965. Satellite denoted the top trim level for Plymouth’s mid-sized Belvedere line until 1967, when the GTX designation superseded it. The Satellite name was phased out completely after 1974.

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Chevrolet Nova Dashboard Emblem, 1968-1972. 2011.291.3

To astronomers, nova refers to a star that shows a sudden, temporary increase in brightness. To gearheads, it’s a compact car built by Chevrolet from 1962 through 1979. Initially, Nova was merely the top trim-level designation while the model itself was called Chevy II. Nova replaced Chevy II as the model name in 1969.

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1990 Saturn Advertisement, “A Different Kind of Company. A Different Kind of Car.” 91.83.13

In 1985, General Motors launched a new automobile division intended to compete with Japanese imports. To GM executives, the ambitious project was akin to NASA’s venerable Apollo program, so they named their new division Saturn in homage to the Saturn V rockets that launched American astronauts toward the Moon. After some early success, GM dissolved Saturn in 2010.

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Subaru Sales Brochure, “The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive,” 1996. 2000.16.3

In the United States, stargazers refer to the Pleiades star cluster as the Seven Sisters, after the seven sisters of Pleiades in Greek mythology. In Japan, it’s called Subaru – namesake of the carmaker known for its boxer engines and rugged wagons. According to mythology, one of the seven sisters is invisible, so you’ll count just six stars in Subaru’s logo.

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The Budd Company approached American Motors Corporation in 1962 with this concept car, which placed a sporty body and a powerful V-8 on an inexpensive Rambler Ambassador chassis. Fearing it would fail, AMC decided against putting the car into production. Two years later, Ford's Mustang became a massive hit using the same idea of a sporty body on an existing chassis.

Learn more about getting this car ready for the 30th Motor Muster, then see it for yourself June 15-16 in Greenfield Village.

Motor Muster

As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, part of my job is to select items related to entrepreneurs within our collection to be digitized. Sometimes this calls for additional research to provide context and significance. Searching for the significance of an object or photograph can often feel like detective work. Sometimes we are able to do some sleuthing and find what we are looking for and other times we run out of leads. Recently, while working with the H. J. Heinz Company Records – the first archival collection selected for this project – we had the opportunity to dig deeper into the significance of a notebook and learn more about its owner.

This notebook containing hand-written recipes from the H. J. Heinz company has been on display at the Heinz House in Greenfield Village for the past several years. Upon getting a closer look, we discovered that there was a name written on the outside: Jn Koehrer.

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The cover of the notebook states that it belongs to Jn Koehrer.

Who was this Jn (John) Koehrer? Unaware of any immediate connections to H. J. Heinz, we turned to Ancestry.com, where we discovered that John Koehrer (1871-1945) was listed as a foster son of Heinz’s cousin, Frederick Heinz. Census records noted that he worked for a “Pick Co.” – which we assumed was supposed to say “Pickle Co.” – and that his occupation was that of a “pickler” or a “foreman.” So now we have a connection to H. J. Heinz, but what does his notebook have to do with the company history?

A Google search for “‘John Koehrer’ Heinz” led us to our answer. An Architectural and Historical Survey of Muscatine, Iowa, noted that, “On January 29, 1893, the Muscatine Improvement and Manufacturing Company closed the contract with Heinz to build its first plant outside of Pittsburgh… The three-story brick building… Opened in 1894 under the management of John Koehrer.” There it was! – the reason he had a notebook of recipes, and why it was significant to company history, was because he was to manage the new Heinz factory and needed to make sure he could replicate the products.

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Handwritten recipe from the notebook for “Chilli Sauce.” Half-way down the page you’ll notice that the recipe calls for “1/2 pound of xxx.” The three x’s can be found in other recipes too and represent a secret ingredient.

Additional research from online newspaper articles allowed us to discover what was primarily produced at the plant – sauerkraut, horseradish, pickles, ketchup, and other tomato products – and we inferred that the recipes within the notebook would have been fairly simple to produce at the factory. From previous conservation and cataloguing reports, we had dated the notebook to around 1890, which fit perfectly into the timeline for John to have used these recipes in Iowa.

With this new information we are now able to more accurately describe the notebook on display and the research we uncovered can be added to our records for future use. When it comes to historical research, you never truly know what you’re going to find. In this digital age, and with more resources at our fingertips than ever before, more hidden gems like this one can be uncovered – a joy to behold in the history field.

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. Special thanks to Aimee Burpee, Associate Registrar – Special Projects, for helping us uncover the mystery behind this notebook!

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Characters Wembly and Boober in a pickle-shaped vehicle Happy Meal toy, 1988. This tie-in dates back to the
Fraggle Rock with Jim Henson’s Muppets TV show that debuted in 1983, but more specifically to the Fraggle Rock Saturday morning animated cartoon series that premiered in 1987. THF308669

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The Under 3 (year old) toy from the Happy Meal Mac Tonight promotion, 1988.
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Spring-loaded Mario from the Happy Meal tie-in to the Super Mario Brothers Nintendo video game, 1990.
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On June 11, 1979, McDonald’s introduced its first national Happy Meal promotion. Called Circus Wagon, it included six different cardboard boxes designed to look like festively decorated circus wagons. Each box, topped with handles shaped like the familiar golden arches, held a kid-sized meal and included a small toy, or premium, inside. The toys, depicting McDonald’s characters, were simple: erasers, decals for plastic ID bracelets, and “doodler” rulers incorporating different shapes with which to draw along with the measured ruler. Who knew at the time what a phenomenon Happy Meals would become? As of this month, they have been with us for 40 years!

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These rubber “Space Aliens,” featured in a 1979 Happy Meal promotion and made by Diener Industries, were also sold at retail stores as novelty pencil erasers.
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Origins
This plastic “McWrist” wallet was part of a 1977 regional test promotion for the Happy Meal concept. THF175122

Although the origins of Happy Meals are a bit murky, McDonald’s officially credits their “invention” to Missouri-based advertising executive Bob Bernstein. After noting the success of a kid-sized meal introduced by a McDonald’s operator in Guatemala and market testing several variations in different cities, Bernstein opted for the Kansas City, Missouri, test version: “a hamburger, fries, soft drink, packet of cookies, and a surprise inside the happiest box you ever saw.” 

At the time, Bernstein was convinced that the container for the meal was the most important component. So, he engaged nationally known children’s illustrators to design the graphics, jokes, games, and stories that appeared on the boxes. Who knew back then that it was the “surprise,” the little toy inside, that would be the key to Happy Meal’s success? 

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One
of six stunningly designed boxes from the Star Trek Meal, 1979. THF Z0064838

The Star Trek Meal
The 1979 Star Trek Meal marked a turning point in Happy Meal history, with the first Happy Meal designed to cross-promote a mass media feature, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the style of early Happy Meals, the boxes were striking, while the toys inside were still small and innocuous—a space ring, an iron-on transfer, a wrist bracelet, and a paper fold-out board game.

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Navigation Bracelet and Starfleet board game from the Star Trek Happy Meal promotion, 1979.
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All Aboard the Birthday Train!

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Ronald McDonald driving the locomotive for the 15th-anniversary Happy Birthday Happy Meal train, 1994. THF319287

As McDonald’s began to focus on the toys rather than the boxes and to seek media tie-ins with their promotions, the popularity of Happy Meals grew by leaps and bounds. 

In 1994, McDonald’s celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Happy Meals with a special promotion of 15 premiums, each reflecting a different promotion from the previous years. These premiums could be interlocked to create a 15-car circus train—harkening back to the first national Circus Wagon Happy Meal promotion of 1979. Kids were surprised, then delighted, to find that when they moved the train along, each of them would spin, jump, or rotate on its own little train car. The Happy Birthday Happy Meal birthday train, part of The Henry Ford’s large collection of early kids’ meal toys, is featured here in its entirety. So hop aboard for a ride through the first 15 years of McDonald’s Happy Meals!

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Barbie and Hot Wheels, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994.
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These date back to a Barbie-Hot Wheels Mattel tie-in from 1991.  The pairing of Barbie and Hot Wheels proved so popular that it returned three times in the early 1990s.  This promotion was the first to feature 16 different premiums and the first to offer separate premiums for both girls and boys (though sometimes girls preferred the Hot Wheels to the Barbie). Each original premium came with a coupon for purchasing the full-size toy in retail stores. As part of the birthday train, this Barbie twirled around, while the Hot Wheels car revolved inside the drum.

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ET, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319284

This figure references the 1985 re-release of the 1982 movie ET, The Extra Terrestrial.  The 1985 Happy Meal promotion featured four four-color posters that had to be hand-rolled by employees and secured with rubber bands as they would not fit into Happy Meal boxes. All royalties for the original promotion were donated by McDonald’s to the Special Olympics. As part of the birthday train, ET’s neck rose up and down.

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Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319276

This 1994 promotion was a tie-in to both the release of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 videogame (Sonic was created to compete with Nintendo’s mascot, Mario) and the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon which premiered in 1993. As part of the birthday train, the paper “screen” revealed different scenes as it revolved inside the “television.” 

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Peanuts, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319292

This birthday train car commemorates the 1990 Peanuts promotion that featured different Peanuts characters in a farm setting.  That series marked the 40th anniversary of the Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles M. Schulz.  When pushed along, the organ “pipes” on this train car—shaped like a pack of French Fries—rose and fell. THF319292

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101 Dalmatians, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994, THF319280

These figures represent the 30th anniversary re-release of the popular 1961 Disney film, 101 Dalmations.  The original 1991 Happy Meal promotion featured four poseable figures, including Cruella de Vil.  When this birthday train car was moved, the gift box lid opened and closed. 

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Cabbage Patch Kids and Tonka, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994
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These two figures harken back to the Hasbro tie-in from 1992 that featured both 5 poseable Cabbage Patch kids with “real” yarn hair and 5 heavy-duty mini-Tonka utility vehicles.  On the birthday train, the Cabbage Patch Kid’s horse rocked while the Tonka truck’s open-box bed lifted and dumped the present out.

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Berenstain Bears, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319290

This birthday train car relates back to the 25th anniversary promotion (1987) of the beloved Berenstain Bear book series created by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Stories about Mama, Papa, Brother, and Sister were also featured on a Saturday morning cartoon beginning in 1985. As part of this train, the seesaw went up and down. 

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Muppet Babies, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319291

Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies first appeared in a flashback sequence in the 1984 film, The Muppets Take Manhattan, then were featured in their own Saturday morning cartoon series.  The original Happy Meal promotion, with four Muppet characters each on a moving wheeled vehicle, dated from 1987.  As part of the birthday train, babies Kermit and Piggy twirled around.

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Little Mermaid, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319283

A Little Mermaid Happy Meal promotion appeared in 1989, tied in with the release of the Disney animated film. The original promotion featured four Little Mermaid-related tub/bath toys. The first Disney tie-in actually appeared in 1987, featuring four activity books of classic Disney films.  When this birthday train car moved, Flounder “swam” in circles around Ariel.

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Tiny Toons and Looney Tunes, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319285 and THF 319279

These two birthday train cars represent Warner Brothers promotions from 1991: Tiny Toon Adventures based upon the Saturday morning cartoon of that name and Super Looney Tunes—in which five different Looney Tunes characters came with add-on super-character suits. When the Tiny Toons car was moved, Babs Bunny placed a candle on and off the top of the birthday cake. On the Looney Tunes car, the pair of cymbals that Bugs is holding closed in and out around Daffy Duck’s head.

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Caboose, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319278

The “Happy Meal guys” bought up the rear on the Happy Birthday Happy Meal caboose, 1994. When pushed along, the French Fry’s party horn moved in and out.

Teenie Beanies Conquer All
By 1997, McDonald’s had sold over 100 million Happy Meals. They seemed successful and popular. But then, between the short window of April 11 and May 15 of that year, Teenie Beanies were introduced, taking advantage of the Ty Beanie Babies craze. This promotion blew all previous ones out of the water. Families who had never even visited McDonald’s were suddenly waiting in long lines to order Happy Meals. For many kids who grew up in the 1990s (and their parents), it was the most memorable Happy Meal promotion ever. 

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1997 Ty Teenie Beanie Babies in their original packages: Patti the Platypus, Pinky the Flamingo, Chops the Lamb, Chocolate the Moose, Goldie the Goldfish. THF175081

This promotion also firmly established the adult hobby of collecting Happy Meal toys. So many adults came in to purchase Happy Meals just to collect the Teenie Beanies—and so much food was wasted as a result—that McDonald’s began, from then on, to charge separately if customers just wanted to buy the toy.    

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1997 Ty Teenie Beanie Babies in their original packages: Seamore the Seal, Speedy the Turtle, Snort the Bull, Quacks the Duck, Lizz the Lizard
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While several series of Teenie Beanies were released after 1997, the 10 mini-versions of Beanie Babies from that year were the most successful. 

Still Going Strong
Though many other fast food establishments have offered kids’ meals and related premiums, McDonald’s Happy Meals have remained the most enduring and popular. They have not been immune to attack, especially by parents and healthy eating advocates, and there has been recent talk of repurposing kids’ meal toys into apps and digital downloads. Despite these trends, there is no denying the visceral quality of pulling out, unwrapping, and playing with a new Happy Meal toy. For 40 years, they have made kids happy, let parents enjoy their own meals, reflected popular trends, and become an inescapable part of our culture.

Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life, was one of those Moms who actually enjoyed waiting in long lines at McDonald’s for the thrill of getting the latest Teenie Beanies.

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As we were excited to announce last December, What We Wore offers us the opportunity to continually display objects from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories. What’s on exhibit currently in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation? Wedding dresses, highlighting the fact that the “traditional” white wedding dress wasn’t always traditional...

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For much of American history, brides simply wore the best dress they had. Most wedding celebrations were at-home, informal events. The formal white wedding dress—and the more elaborate celebration to go along with it—is a relatively new concept.

Queen Victoria’s choice of a white dress for her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert inspired the fashion. Over the next century, the custom would gradually spread from the very wealthy to those of more modest means. By the 1950s, the formal white wedding with all the trimmings had become a widespread tradition.

Whether simple or elaborate, classic or trendy—for most brides, the white wedding gown has staying power. Some brides prefer a practical choice for their bridal attire—others search for the perfect, “fairy princess” dress.

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Whatever the choice of wedding apparel, it reflects the bride’s values and taste.

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Mollie Herrington – Married July 1, 1886

Mollie Herrington wed Reverend William Canfield on a summer evening in the mid-1880s. Like most brides, this 26-year-old schoolteacher was married at her family’s home in a dress that was not white. Brides wore their best dress—whether newly made or already owned—and continued to wear it after the wedding. Few could afford to invest in a white dress meant to be worn only once. Mollie’s stylish dress was probably made for her wedding by a local dressmaker.

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Gift of American Textile History Museum, donated to ATHM by Shirley Parish.

Shirley Powell – Married Oct. 18, 1969

Shirley Powell was married in her great-aunt Mollie’s wedding dress—a choice both practical and sentimental. This 23-year-old bride loved the cherished family heirloom—and didn’t think she would find anything more finely made or beautiful at a price she was willing to pay. Having a traditional wedding wasn’t all that important to Shirley and David, but they realized the celebration would be as much about family bonds as about them.

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Wedding Party at the Marriage of Cecelia Wall and Anthony Denisevich, 1935. THF274683

Cecilia Wall – Married Oct. 26, 1935

For her morning wedding, 22-year-old Cecelia Wall walked down the aisle in an ivory silk velvet dress. Afterwards, the bridal party and immediate family enjoyed a wedding breakfast at her parents’ home and, in the evening, a reception at the home of the groom’s parents. The Great Depression required some brides to plan simpler weddings than they might have wished. Cecelia was among the fortunate brides who could afford a formal wedding gown.

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Rose Pecchia at Her Wedding in 1968. THF274680

Rose Pecchia – Married March 29, 1968

Rose Pecchia was a practical woman who wanted a simple wedding. She and her husband-to-be chose a wedding date—just two weeks away. A secretary at a downtown Detroit television station, 28-year-old Rose ran out on her lunch hour to nearby Hudson’s department store. She then headed for the racks of cocktail dresses. Rose knew it as soon as she saw it—the perfect dress! It was minimal and stylish—in the 1960s, shorter skirts were “in.” A friend’s mother made the simple headpiece.

Recently, Rose had the chance to see her wedding dress on exhibit. Take a look at her reaction below.


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Diane Osgood at Her Wedding, Tempe, Arizona, June 2, 1990.

Diane Osgood – Married June 2, 1990

Diane Osgood’s choice was traditional. She got married in white—though the 22-year-old bride had at first preferred a blush pink gown, a trendy choice at the time. Diane bypassed white flowers, though, opting for a colorful bridal bouquet instead. The bride and groom didn’t want to miss any of the reception—so they posed for wedding photographs before the ceremony on that 101-degree Arizona June day.

The Henry Ford - 1960s

Henry Ford Museum, 1965. THF133278

During the 1950s and the 1960s, the museum prepared to engage a new generation of visitors. Fresh paint, improved exhibits, special events, and enhanced amenities began to transform the museum into an increasingly attractive destination for the visiting public.

Staffordshire Case in Decorative Arts, 1960

Staffordshire Case in Decorative Arts Gallery in Henry Ford Museum, circa 1960. THF139326

In Henry Ford Museum, curators reduced the number of objects on display in the main exhibit hall, arranged the artifacts in a more orderly fashion, and provided explanatory labels. The transportation collections were rearranged, presenting the trains, automobiles, and bicycles in chronological order for the first time. This helped visitors see more clearly how technology and design had evolved over time, Similarly, the decorative arts galleries grouped furniture, ceramics, glassware, and silver to show the evolution of American taste.

Edison Institute Board of Trustees, 1967

Edison Institute Board of Trustees, 1967. THF133538

In 1969, as the institution celebrated its 40th anniversary, William Clay Ford, then board chairman of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, announced that both the Ford Motor Company and the Ford Foundation would each donate $20 million in grants to the organization. In speaking at the anniversary celebration that year, William Clay Ford said, “I think the institute is one of the great philanthropic legacies of my grandfather. It in no way diminishes the significance of this historic resource to note that he underestimated its financial needs when he conceived it more than a generation ago.”

Nearly half of the money was used for needed improvements to museum and village facilities and programming. The remainder was used to create an endowment fund to provide for future income. The announcement launched a period of development not see seen since Henry Ford’s era.

Acquisitions Made to the Collections in the 1960s

Samuel Metford Silhouette of Noah and Rebecca WebsterSamuel Metford Silhouette of Noah and Rebecca Webster

The museum purchased this 1842 silhouette of Noah and Rebecca Webster in 1962--just in time to be placed in the Webster House as it was being opened to the public for the first time since it was moved from New Haven, Connecticut in 1936. This silhouette, mentioned in Rebecca’s will, had been left to a Webster daughter. Curators were fortunate to have also acquired an original Webster desk, sofa, and some portraits to include along with other period furniture, tableware, paintings, quilts, and accessories. Yet, when completed, the rooms were more effective at showcasing fine decorative arts objects than reflecting the Webster family’s life. The era of historically accurate, immersive settings had not yet arrived in the museum field. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life


Oil Painting, "Sarah ... at the Age of Four," 1830-1840
Oil Painting, "Sarah ... at the Age of Four," 1830-1840

Throughout the mid-20th century, curators sought out the best examples of decorative and folk arts, one of which is this portrait of a 4-year-old girl named Sarah. Painted around 1830 by an itinerant artist, this endearing girl carries a basket of stylized fruit and flowers and wears a necklace of coral beads, which were thought to ward off illness. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts


1965 Ford Mustang Serial Number One

1965 Ford Mustang Serial Number One

Mustang fans know the story well. Canadian airline pilot Stanley Tucker bought Serial Number One in Newfoundland on April 14, 1964. After Mustang became a sales sensation, Ford spent two years convincing Tucker to give it back (ultimately, in trade for a fully-loaded '66 Mustang). Ford Motor Company then gave Serial Number One to The Henry Ford where the landmark vehicle immediately... went into storage until 1984. Such was the museum's philosophy in those days. A vehicle wasn't truly historic -- and worthy of display -- until it reached 20 years of age. Happily, exhibit policies and visitor expectations are quite different today! - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation


License plate - "Michigan License Plate, 1913" - Michigan. Dept. of State

License plate - "Michigan License Plate, 1913" - Michigan. Dept. of State

The museum's collection not only includes automobiles, but automotive accessories and registration materials. In the 1960s, the State of Michigan donated a run of Michigan license plates dating from about 1906 to 1968. Alongside the museum's historic vehicles, these objects help tell the rich story of America's automotive history. -Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content


First Portable Superheterodyne Radio Receiver, Made by Edwin Howard Armstrong, 1923

First Portable Superheterodyne Radio Receiver, Made by Edwin Howard Armstrong, 1923

By the 1960s, Curator of Mechanical Arts, Frank Davis, and his curatorial colleagues had started to organize the thousands of artifacts collected during Henry Ford's lifetime. The collections displayed in the museum's vast Mechanical Arts Hall, curated by Davis, contained machines related to agriculture, power generation, lighting, transportation, and communication. With a special interest in radio, Davis couldn't pass up the chance to add this radio to the collection in 1967. Created by pioneer of radio engineering and credited inventor of FM radio, Edwin Howard Armstrong, this radio was a gift to Armstrong’s wife for their 1923 honeymoon and the first portable "superhet" radio receiver ever made. - Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator of Digital Content


Torch Lake Steam Locomotive, 1873

Torch Lake Steam Locomotive, 1873

In 1969, as the institution celebrated its 40th anniversary, board chairman William Clay Ford announced an extensive expansion and improvement program that would include the creation of a perimeter railroad for Greenfield Village. The 1873 Torch Lake, originally used by a copper mining company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, fit in perfectly with these plans. Returned to operating condition, the engine shifted from hauling ore to transporting passengers and was just shy of 100 years old when the railroad opened in 1972. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator of Digital Content


Ford Motor Company Historic Business Records Collection

Ford Motor Company Historic Business Records Collection

In 1964, the Ford Motor Company donated its archive to Edison Institute, with the records from the office of Henry Ford at the collection’s core. Housed in over 3,000 boxes and forming an unbroken run of correspondence from 1921 through 1952, the Engineering Lab Office Records are a remarkable group of materials that document a period of more than thirty years of activity of one of the world's great industrialists and his company. -Brian Wilson, Sr. Manager, Archives and Library


1960 Advertisement for the Ford 981 Diesel Tractor and Ford 250 Hay Baler

1960 Advertisement for the Ford 981 Diesel Tractor and Ford 250 Hay Baler, "Up To 10 Tons Per Hour...That's Making Hay the Ford Way!"


The Ford Motor Company transferred business records to the Edison Institute in 1964. The transfer included this 1960 advertisement for the Ford 981 diesel tractor and the Ford 250 hay baler. Existing collections had not covered this time period. Henry Ford and collectors such as Felix Roulet focused on earlier technological innovations as they built the collection between the 1920s and 1940s. When Peter Cousins joined the staff in 1969 as the first trained historian hired to curate agriculture, his research confirmed inventors and patent numbers and affirmed the richness of the collection. He also identified items still needed to tell authentic stories about technological history after Henry Ford's era. - Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment

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Motor Controllers for the Telescope at the Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin, 1932. THF134290

As long as humans have existed, we have looked up at the night skies and wondered about the stars, planets, moons, and more that we see there. Among the collections of The Henry Ford are objects that speak to the underlying tools and technologies that allow our understanding of the universe to grow. These artifacts demonstrate that whether we are observing celestial bodies or venturing into space, we design ways to overcome the many challenges of comprehending and exploring the cosmos.

We recently asked a number of our staff to pick a favorite artifact from among our space-related collections. Many of the selections showcase observatories—the process of constructing them, the machinery that makes them tick, and the ways they discover and share knowledge about our universe. Others cover the promise, challenges, and triumphs of our journeys beyond Earth's atmosphere.

All these artifacts, which you can explore in our Expert Set, tell the story of humanity's ambitious desire to learn more, understand more, and travel beyond our own world.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Many experts describe entrepreneurship as the act of launching and managing a business venture. Those who establish these businesses are called entrepreneurs – but what does it really mean to be an entrepreneur?

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The Parker Brothers honed their own entrepreneurship skills as they became a household name in the board game industry. Their “Make-a-Million” was a card game from the 1930s in which teams competed to win “tricks,” vying to become the first to reach one million dollars. THF91890


With the recent launch of the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, The Henry Ford hopes to become a recognized resource for the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Through a $1.5 million grant, the institution-wide initiative will support the creation of a Speaker Series, youth programming, workshops, and Innovation Labs, which focus on cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit for the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow. Additionally, four Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) – beginning with local urban farmer Melvin Parson – will foster entrepreneurial learning for both youth and adults by engaging the EIR’s expertise in a project that connects The Henry Ford and the broader entrepreneurial community. Lastly, as a part of its commitment to connecting to and inspiring future entrepreneurs, the Initiative for Entrepreneurship will highlight the entrepreneurial stories within our collections. As Project Curator, I will work with Project Collections Specialist-Cataloger Katrina Wioncek and Project Imaging Technician Cory Taylor, as well as other staff from The Henry Ford, to identify and provide access to these stories through our Digital Collections and related content, including blog posts like this one.

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The Henry Ford’s founder and namesake is one of the best-known American entrepreneurs. Persisting through multiple failures, Ford revolutionized the automotive industry and built a lasting enterprise in the Ford Motor Company. This 1924 photograph shows Ford posing in front of his first automobile – the 1896 Quadricycle – and the ten-millionth Model T to roll off the assembly line. THF113389

When I joined the project in January, my first task was to define “entrepreneur.” This proved to be challenging, as a simple Internet search produced dozens of definitions and interpretations. I soon discovered that the reason for the discrepancy is that there are several different categories of entrepreneurship, but the many sources I referenced agree on two points: all entrepreneurs launch and manage their own business and take on financial risks in creating that business.

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Harvey Firestone was an entrepreneur in the tire making business, building the global brand Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Here Henry Ford and Firestone observe an experimental watering system at Firestone Farm in Columbiana, Ohio in 1936. THF242526

Entrepreneurs can range from small business owners hoping to provide for their families to industry millionaires who head up large companies. There are also social entrepreneurs who seek to solve a local problem or large social enterprises hoping to save the world. The differences lie within their motivations and how they measure success. While most entrepreneurs are in the business to make a profit, social entrepreneurs have the goal of generating funds to contribute to a particular cause or solving a social problem. For-profit entrepreneurs measure success based on revenue or stock increases, while social entrepreneurs can be a blend of for-profit and non-profit agendas, assessing their impact on society while still generating revenue.

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Social entrepreneur Lauren Bush Lauren was the first speaker in the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. Lauren spoke about her business, FEED Projects, which seeks to tackle world hunger. Proceeds from her line of handbags and accessories provide meals to schoolchildren around the globe.

Throughout the two-year initiative we will highlight stories from our rich and varied collections that demonstrate the characteristics that entrepreneurs share. To name a few, entrepreneurs are creative thinkers, resourceful, passionate, highly motivated, willing to take risks, and able to persevere through hardship.

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The Wright Brothers were fantastic inventors – their greatest invention being the first powered, controlled airplane. But the Wrights were better inventors than entrepreneurs as they never found great success in the manufacture or sale of their airplanes. An entrepreneur is tenacious and will do whatever it takes to see their plan through, regardless of setbacks and barriers. THF112405

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Henry J. Heinz transformed the eating habits of late 19th– and early 20th—century America. He was passionate about providing a quality product and supported a strong working relationship with his employees. Here Heinz is in a cucumber field encouraging and motivating his workers. THF275188

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The first six months of the initiative will focus on Social Transformation within Agriculture and the Environment – two of our collecting areas that encompass transformative social change in the history of how we grow and experience food. In addition to digital content and other programs created by the grant, local urban farmer and social justice activist Melvin Parson will serve as our first Entrepreneur in Residence, allowing us to connect these ideas to our community. Stay tuned over the next several months as we digitize related archival material and publish new entrepreneurial digital content!

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

We don’t generally associate Star Trek with historic automobiles (or, for that matter, with any automobiles). The classic original series is set circa 2265-2269, nearly 360 years after the first Model T rolled out of Ford’s Piquette Avenue Plant. By all evidence, Federation citizens in the 23rd century are content to get around by spaceship and shuttlecraft (with the notable exception of the Jupiter 8). But who can blame them for not driving? After all, we’re talking about a universe in which teleportation is a thing. But Star Trek isn’t an entirely auto-free zone. Through the clever storytelling devices of science fiction, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy encounter multiple 20th century American cars over the course of the show.

Ask fans to name their favorite episodes and you’ll likely hear “The City on the Edge of Forever” mentioned several times. The romantic yarn, which closed the first season, finds the crew of the Enterprise in a time-traveling misadventure. Dr. McCoy, less than lucid after an accidental overdose of medication, charges through a temporal gateway into New York City circa 1930. Kirk and Spock follow their ailing comrade and discover that McCoy has inadvertently altered history with serious consequences. Our heroes manage to put things right, but not without considerable anguish on Kirk’s part.

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Ford’s 1929 Model AA stake body truck, similar to one seen in “The City on the Edge of Forever.” (THF28278)

The episode features several period automobiles including a 1930 Buick, 1928 and 1930 Chevrolets, and a circa 1930 Ford Model AA truck. Most are in the background, but a 1939 GMC AC-series truck plays a crucial part in the story. In fact, it’s not too much to say that the whole plot depends on it. (Beware of the spoiler at this link.) No, a ’39 truck has no business being on the streets of New York in 1930, but we’ll just let that slide.

The crew returns to a circa 1930 setting in the memorable season two episode “A Piece of the Action.” But this time they’re not on Earth. The Enterprise arrives at the planet Sigma Iotia II, last visited by outsiders before implementation of the Federation’s sacrosanct Prime Directive – barring any interference with the natural development of alien cultures. Kirk and company discover that the planet was indeed contaminated by those earlier visitors. They left behind a book on Chicago gangsters in the 1920s, and the Iotians – a society of mimics – have modeled their planet on that tome, with the expected chaotic results.

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Cadillac, the choice of discerning Starfleet officers. (THF103936)

Those industrious Iotians somehow managed to replicate a host of 1920s and 1930s American cars. Look for a 1929 Buick, a 1932 Cadillac V-16, and a 1925 Studebaker in the mix. But the star car undoubtedly is the 1931 Cadillac V-12 used by Kirk and Spock. It’s one of the few times you’ll see Kirk drive, and it makes for one of the episode’s more amusing scenes. Give one point to Spock for knowing about clutch pedals, but take one point away for his referring to the Caddy as a “flivver.” One could quibble with ’30s cars appearing in a ’20s setting – but one should also remember that this isn’t Earth. We can’t expect the Iotians to get all the details right!

It’s also worth taking a look at season two’s final episode, “Assignment: Earth.” The Enterprise travels back in time to 1968 to conduct a little historical research on Earth. They cross paths with the mysterious Gary Seven, an interstellar agent on a mission of his own to prevent the launch of an orbiting missile platform that will – apparently – lead to nuclear war. It sounds like something right out of “Star Wars.” (No, not that Star Wars, this “Star Wars.”)

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Based on the Department of Defense cars seen in “Assignment: Earth,” it seems the Pentagon prefers Plymouths. Now why could that be? (THF150740)

It’s all very complicated, but it provides another opportunity to see some vintage wheels. (Well, vintage to us and to the Enterprise crew. To TV audiences in 1968, these were contemporary cars.) Pay attention and you’ll spot a number of government agency vehicles including a 1963 Plymouth Savoy, a 1967 Dodge Coronet, and a 1968 Plymouth Satellite (the latter being particularly apropos for a space series). For those who aren’t Mopar fans, look quickly and you’ll also spy a 1966 Ford Falcon in the episode.

Okay, so no one will ever confuse Star Trek with Top Gear. But, if you keep your eyes peeled, every now and then you’ll find a little gasoline to go along with all of that dilithium. After all, sometimes the boldest way to go is the oldest way to go.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds

In the 1950s, big cars ruled. Even low-priced cars like Plymouths, Chevrolets, and Fords were good-sized. The Nash Rambler was smaller and cheaper, with similar interior room.

thf903511950 Nash Rambler Convertible THF90351 

Smallness was not attractive in itself, so Nash -- which competed for the same narrow slice of the market with small cars like the Crosley, the Willys, the Hudson Jet, and Kaiser’s Henry J -- pitched the Rambler as a small car that seemed big.

thf845511950 Nash Sales Brochure, "The Smartest, Safest Convertible in the World" THF84551

Nash tried to make the Rambler appeal to everyone by giving it a little bit of everything—even seemingly contradictory things: economy and luxury, convertible and hardtop, small enough to park and big enough to seat five, as safe as a sedan and as sexy as a sports car.

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But if big was so appealing, why build small cars at all? The sales figures added up to one answer—don’t. There simply weren’t enough buyers, and all the tiny cars failed.

From the staff at The Henry Ford.

Innovation Nation